Since its establishment in 2002, over 1,100 veterans have sought the services of Homes for the Brave, a not-for-profit organization that provides care to American veterans in need.
The shelter, located in Bridgeport, has been recognized for its programs. It offers both temporary and permanent housing, as well as vocational training and life skills coaching. Its mission to enable veterans to have a “productive and meaningful life” post-service.
The work done by Homes for the Brave contributes to a nationwide and state effort to address the issue of veteran displacement. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines chronic homelessness as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” A large population of veterans meet these qualifications.
Using a Point-in-Time report, which measures homelessness on a single night in January, HUD estimates that around 40,000 veterans in the country are displaced on any given night. This sobering figure constitutes about 11 percent of the adult homeless population, making it a major veteran affairs concern.
Veteran homelessness can originate from any number of causes. For many, it is a matter of low income or an inability to receive access to health care. Many are also victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or have substance abuse problems. No matter what the reason, it can be difficult for service members to transition back into civilian life and the workforce, according to advocates who work with veterans.
“There are as many reasons for veteran homelessness as we have veterans,” Kathy Beardsworth, director of communications and outreach at Homes for the Brave, said. “Each story is unique.”
Community-based projects play a large role in reducing the number of veterans out on the streets. Homes for the Brave offers four different branches of local service, the largest being a temporary men’s home which offers 37 beds to veterans and 5 beds to the general homeless population. Its sister program, Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, has a capacity of 15 beds, 10 of which are reserved for veterans. About 165 displaced veterans have passed through the doors of the facility in the past fiscal year alone.
“While in one of our programs, veterans work with a case manager to set their personal goals for self-determination and are linked to the services and benefits they need and are available to them,” Beardsworth said. “We coordinate with the VA and several other organizations to provide veterans with whatever they need to find gainful employment and sustainable permanent housing.”
These efforts have proved successful. In February of 2016, Gov. Dannel G. Malloy announced an end to veteran homelessness in the state of Connecticut. This feat was achieved through a partnership with Zero: 2016, a national organization committed to reducing veteran displacement rates. The program, now titled Built for Zero, identified Connecticut as one of four states that were on track to eradicate homelessness within the given time frame.
Yet this claim can be a bit misleading. Contrary to Malloy’s announcement, veteran homelessness has not been completely eradicated from the state. Instead, Connecticut has been able to fulfill the criteria for ending homelessness outlined by the HUD. Such stipulations include identifying vets as soon as they qualify as homeless and providing them with adequate care within a time frame of 90 days. This puts veteran homelessness rates within the state at a “functional zero,” the New Haven Register reported.
In a state press release issued by Malloy’s office in May, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness announced that displacement in Connecticut is at historically low levels. Reporting a 24 percent decrease from the previous year, the coalition reported that only 34 veterans frequented emergency shelters while 14 vets were identified as homeless.
Connecticut is one of three states able to boast such low figures, along with Virginia and Delaware, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Additionally, about 49 communities in 26 different states have been able to meet the HUD’s criteria. Some major cities on track to end veteran homelessness include New Orleans, Houston, and Albany.
Despite the progress made by state and local efforts, many advocates for veterans say the issue requires more attention on the federal level. In 2010, former President Barack Obama promised to end veteran homelessness before 2015. Yet by the end of his second term, this goal went unfulfilled as only 47 percent of veterans had been provided with care.
The Obama administration was also the scene of several veterans affair scandals. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned following confirmed allegations of backlogged wait time records at VA facilities, leading to the expiration of thousands of veteran benefit claims.
Such corrupt activity has been a popular target of veteran organizations nationwide. Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has been vocal with his dissatisfaction with the federal government’s handling veteran homelessness.
“It’s become a politically radioactive issue,” Rieckhoff told the Washington Post 2016. “[Obama] hasn’t acknowledged this as an issue of public health or national security, and he hasn’t presented an option for the American people to help.”
With over 9 million vets in the nation, as well as approximately 200,000 service members becoming veterans annually, advocates said the department was in need of serious reform. Upon taking office, President Donald J. Trump appointed David Shulkin as the new secretary of the VA, who has pledged to streamline access to VA care and reform the department.
Jessica Parillo is a student at Trumbull High School, Trumbull.